Thinking (in) Videos: Merging the Critical with the Creative

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Graduates not only need to be able to make things; they need to be able to think critically as well.

A few days ago I was sitting on a Course Review panel chatting to an industry practitioner who co-founded an innovative creative agency based in Melbourne. The company does a lot of digital production and marketing work, among other things, and exemplifies the kind of organisation that many students I teach would love to one day work for. The above ‘quotation’ isn’t word-for-word what this tech-savvy practitioner told me, but it does capture the essense of a key point he made. When studying contemporary media, navigating – or better yet, exploiting – the intersection between critical thinking and creative practive is key.

Toronto - book stacks at Toronto Reference Library by The City of Toronto.jpg
Toronto: book stacks at Toronto Reference Library by The City of Toronto (CC BY 2.0)

Engaging with peer-reviewed scholarship is one important way in which students can demonstrate critical and analytical ability. All through my undergraduate (and, for that matter, postgraduate) studies, it was never once suggested to me that the product of reading, interpreting, and applying theoretical ideas from monographs, edited collections, and journal articles could take any other form than a direct quotation or paraphrased statement in an essay. This is certainly one strategy by which a critical understanding of scholarly sources can be demonstrated, but not the only one.

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IMG_0883 by mosaic36 (CC BY 2.0)

When I think back to the early 2000s, I’m probably fortunate my brick-like mobile phone had essentially none of the distractions that might have hindered the writing of all those essays – let alone the reading of the books and articles that informed them. Now, with the emergence of media forms like the video essay and the increasing use of blogs and other online media for student assessment, the ways in which scholarship might be used (by academics and students alike) will only multiply as a matter of course. In fact, I can see a time, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, where the nature and form(s) of peer-reviewed scholarship gets a seriously expansive makeover – but that’s not the key issue I’m concerned with here. The main point of this blog is to question the ‘mainstream’ practice of engaging with scholarly source material by replicating the mode that this source material invariably exists in.

I recently put together some brief reflections in a podcast about the possibile inclusion of scholarship in audio form (which, setting aside the sometimes more intimidating process of recording and editing a podcast, isn’t necessarily all that different from the conventional in-class oral presentation). What I thought I’d focus on here is the potentialities of the audio-visual form, given that particularly complex and nuanced meanings can be conveyed in short videos – even those of between thirty seconds and a minute in length.

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Photograph by Adam Brown, 20 August 2016.

The accessibility of user-friendly video editing programs that can be downloaded (often for free) on computers, tablets, and phones attests to the many avenues of creative media-making that were simply unavailable to students not so long ago. The smooth functionality of iMovie is just one example of a program that can take just a few short hours to get your head around the fundamentals and start producing some outstanding video clips with. The different ways in which a short video can be used to define/explore a concept or theory, and articulate/enhance an argument are endless, so I’ll be anything but comprehensive here. Nonetheless, I thought a few examples might help illustrate what I’m getting at…

Let’s just start with a ‘simple’ Vine, which despite its short length actually requires a good deal of discipline and focus in order to get any kind of ‘message’ across within a limited timeframe of six seconds. If I was to introduce, contextualise, and use a short quotation in the following way, there would be nothing wrong with it…

In their discussion of contemporary dataveillance, Lemi Baruh and Leven Soysal (2010, p. 399) write that the ‘public intimacy’ promoted by, and practised within, social media sites has led to a deeply troubling ‘new regime of surveillance.’

But could I enhance the point I’m making here by complementing (not replacing) the line with a brief audio-visual text that reiterates the statement as a question?

Taking things to the next level, incorporating an engagement with scholarship into a slightly longer video opens up many more opportunities for both expanding on content in a substantial way while simultaneously demonstrating creative skills. Speaking to the camera is one option, of course, as in the example below:

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Screenshot of Adam Brown’s overworked smartphone.

Talking directly to one’s audience and not distracting them with a reliance on notes – or even something as small as the glare of a monitor on reading glasses – is not always an easy task. The image on the right reveals that even when a performance is scripted and rehearsed, there can be multiple takes involved (and not only because a maltese-shitzu is tapping on the floorboards or scratching at the door). Talking head footage is a highly valuable means of conveying information in a more ‘personal’ and perhaps even ‘authoritative’ manner, but extended reflections sometimes mean that overlaying visual material at strategic moments can make life a lot easier.

I was lucky in this case that one of my other Twitter personalities stepped in to strategically manipulate the footage I’d originally put together by using (part of) the same audio in an arguably more engaging way than the initial video did. This underlines a fundamental point about getting practical with media that I’ve made many times in blog posts and videos: when you are creative with media, things happen – often unexpected things, but always valuable things that you learn something new from (even if it’s because something went wrong). As with filmmaking generally, you don’t always know what you’ve got until you get it!

My canine companion Tiffany also wanted to chip in an example of a video that focuses on the concept of ‘social sorting’ (Tiff made me create the video, of course, but it was her idea). Including a brief intro sequence, Creative Commons music, custom-shot footage, snappy editing, transitions, a video thumbnail, and so on, might seem extravagant for a short video, but when you get used to the process it doesn’t take endless hours to put together. Making the one-minute video below probably took between one-and-a-half and two hours in total (including everything from scripting to finding source material to filming to editing to uploading). What do you think? Should I have just written the voiceover down as a paragraph and saved myself some time? Or is it more engaging this way?

You might not believe the teacher, but I’m sure you’ll agree with Tiff…

In making the above points and examples, I am by no means implying that writing style and skill are no longer important – they are!! The likelihood of turning off – and therefore turning away – a reader due to typographical errors is perhaps even stronger in the context of a blog than it is via the printed page. Nonetheless, it’s clear that incorporating dynamic audio and audio-visual media content within and alongside written material can vastly enhance the overall product. After all, would you have been as interested in working through this blog post if it comprised writing alone? So to sum it all up: don’t forget the power of making media, even when you are engaging with scholarly sources that might on the surface seem to lend themselves to anything but a creative endeavour.

Being able to think critically is critical, but you can also demonstrate this by being creative!!

 

Music used in Social Sorting video

Zythian – Prismatic by Argofox (CC BY 3.0)

 

Images used in videos

Phone by Alexander Lyubavin (CC BY 2.0)

People by James Lumb (CC BY 2.0)

dutch people by zoetnet (CC BY 2.0)

People… by Evgeniy Isaev (CC BY 2.0)

Portrait by Tyrone Daryl (CC BY 2.0)

 

References

Baruh, L and Soysal, L 2010, ‘Public intimacy and the new face (book) of surveillance: the role of social media in shaping contemporary dataveillance’, in Dumova, T and Fiordo, R (eds.), Handbook of Research on Social Interaction Technologies and Collaboration Software: Concepts and Trends, Information Science Reference, Hershey, pp. 392-403.

Kimber, M 2012, ‘Blogging the 2009 Queensland state election’, Media International Australia, no. 145, pp. 75-83.

Lyon, D 2003, Surveillance as Social Sorting: Privacy, Risk, and Digital Discrimination, Routledge, London and New York.

Moyo, L 2009, ‘Digital democracy: enhancing the public sphere’, in Creeber, G and Martin, R (eds.), Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp. 139-50.

 

 

Nothing is a Waste of Time, Except Doing Nothing: From Consuming to Creating

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Nothing you ever read or watch or listen to is a waste of time.

That was the seldom-spoken personal philosophy I lived by as a literature and history student in my undergraduate years – and probably before university too. I was a voracious reader and viewer from an early age; I would constantly devour a book or film of almost any kind. It’s common sense really that you always take something – learn something – from everything you expose yourself to. It’s never a waste of time.

'Broken clock' by Thomas Hawk.jpg
Broken Clock by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I still hold to that, but the maxim’s now expanded to include nothing you ever make is a waste of time either. Consuming and creating texts often go hand-in-hand, and the rise of terms like ‘viewser’ and ‘prosumer’ signal a blurring of the two. But ‘consuming’ in the conventional sense is not creating, and the process of actually making media – from a tweet to a blog to a video – offers innumerable lessons that simply can’t be learnt by the distant, passive observer.

Amidst reading and watching I wrote a lot of stories and poems, and my passion for making videos started as early as Year 10, when my brother and I would escape oral presentations by making short films together and screening them in class. Well over a decade would pass before I made a single video after Year 12, but I have no doubt that many of the lessons from which I’ve benefited so much came from those early years when we played around with our school library’s huge camera and sat up all night with two VCRs to edit the amateur footage we’d shot.

Admittedly editing is still often the most arduous and time-consuming stage of filmmaking, but when compared with today’s accessible programs, editing back then was immensely painful and imperfect. We’d shoot some very long takes just to make things manageable, and there would inevitably be a number of bloopers to edit out no matter how carefully we’d plan, script, and rehearse. On the other hand, being creative with media can bring rewards that could never have been predicted. You might unearth a new idea or way of doing things that ends up enhancing the original concept – or something might just happen that you simply can’t leave out of the final product, as we discovered in the video below:

Most of the time, unplanned footage can’t be used – at least not in the way in which you intended – but it’s still there, waiting for the day that you really need it. Such footage can be repurposed to make a point for which it might not have been designed, but for which it’s very well suited. I see this kind of thing from time to time exemplified in the work of students who not only make media, but also share it – highlighting the #LearnByDoing mantra that all media students should live by…

The key point here is the more you make, the more you learn. But the bonus element of all this is that you also build a constantly-growing databank of material that you can draw on in future – whether this is in a few weeks, or several years down the track. In other words, the more active you are, the better resourced you are for what you might need to get done. If you’ve been busy making things all along, that activity will (possibly without you even knowing) inform your later activity – sometimes indirectly; sometimes directly, like finding a Vine made four months ago that articulates a point you’re trying to make…

Beyond being a more engaging means of communicating an idea providing words alone, another fundamental aspect of creativity is – it’s fun! That in itself is not a point to be glossed over. As Danielle Teychenne said when I first made a video with her in 2015:

People say you can’t have fun when you’re learning because you’re not taking it seriously. But you absolutely can have fun!

The perpetual value of media-making I’ve been talking about here is also related to the crucial concept of recyclability, which I made a video about earlier this year. So in continuing the trend in this blog of using media I made long ago without any idea of the value it would later have, here’s a video I made earlier, which is made up of some other videos I’d made earlier… Dizzy yet?

To return to the point with which I started, hopefully the above examples – spanning seventeen years in total – have persuaded you that nothing is ever a waste of time…

Except doing nothing.

It Started with a Pack of Cards: Motivation and Reward

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When I was young, my Dad would encourage my brother Luke and I to work out with him in the shed every week… almost every week… I think.

When he could get us to do it anyway.

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Don’t go calling the RSPCA. I wasn’t that young…

Two decades have passed and my memories have blurred, but I distinctly remember feelings of both annoyed reluctance and genuine motivation in connection to this routine of ours. I didn’t always want to do it, but I also enjoyed doing it – when, that is, Luke and I actually pushed ourselves out of the house to actually do it. Perhaps fitness and family bonding had something to do with why Dad was so enthused to see us exercise to a greater degree than we did with our Nintendo controllers. Maybe even masculine identity-building was part of it – if so, it failed miserably (see the above image). But the only clear recollection I have of my father’s own explanation of the routine was that working out is what had taught him ‘discipline’. He didn’t mean discipline in the sense that a parent might usually evoke the term; he meant motivation.

Performance
The Cool Kids: Luke and I preparing for a perfomance, before we put our costumes on…

In order for us to learn how to be motivated, of course, Dad would have to motivate us. At that time in our lives, Luke and I collected Spiderman and X-Men collector cards respectively. Yep, we were that cool. Whenever we agreed/consented/capitulated to train in the shed, Dad would buy us a pack of said cards each. I hope this didn’t go on for too long, because it would have cost a fortune and I’m starting to feel guilty, but it worked. This is easily the earliest memory I have of learning the relationship between motivation and reward – the subject that concerns me in this blog.

Ever since those packs of cards, I’ve frequently used rewards to motivate myself – whether it’s hiring a movie, spending an hour on the Xbox, or setting aside the time for some very minor thing that I now no longer remember. It hasn’t always worked; I often get distracted, lazy, apathetic. I’ve sometimes cheated and given myself the reward anyway. These days I’m using Habitica to build habits and accomplish personal and professional goals, which is working pretty well – though of course even effective strategies need to be re-evaluated over time no matter how motivated you are. I’ve never known anyone – students or teachers, family members or friends – for whom maintaining motivation hasn’t been a source of real struggle at some point. Not only can it be a problem for all, but I sense it’s also something that doesn’t get reflected on nearly enough – and I include myself in this.

Perhaps it’s a truism that (self-)motivation is the key to success, and that reward plays a central part in this; however, it feels to me like an issue that’s overlooked and overshadowed on a daily basis. Having taught at university for over a decade, I’ve witnessed a growing crisis of engagement – responsbility for which is borne by both teachers and students alike. To what extent this crisis stems from things like the socio-cultural shifts of the digital age or the recent formation of a so-called ‘Ps Get Degrees’ mentality is not my concern here. What I’m interested in is how authentic engagement in 21st century educational contexts comes about. To this end, I’ve recently adopted gamification as a means of encouraging online activity, and have found that explicitly and reflexively highlighting the theme of motivation and reward go hand-in-hand with this.

***Thanks to Luke Brown for his creative manipulation of the above film image, which students should note classifies as parody, but does not conform to assessment requirements – i.e. don’t do this in your own blogs!

Thinking of rewards that motivate oneself can be immensely difficult, which on the one hand seems to me very sad – even tragic – but might also be seen as an indictment of society – and its educational system. My identity as a teacher has been formed within an environment (and I’m not singling out an institution here; I’m evoking an entire industry) that expects – assumes – that sufficient motivation is (or should be) already there; that even though it’s a teacher’s ‘problem’, it shouldn’t be a teacher’s problem – and therefore not something a teacher should be providing a possible solution, or solutions, for. In many ways, effective teaching is about motivating students, but the two have also been held apart. At the same time, as mentioned above, the road sign of responsibility points both ways. The best motivation is self-motivation, and teachers can only do so much.

Carrot Man
Carrot by Marc Roberts (CC BY 2.0)

I could write a lot more about holding carrots before us to drive us along, but the above reflection was in large part written to introduce and contextualise the video below. My conversation with Clim Pacheco – an engineer, manager, educator and idea-preneur – is  somewhat different from those that I generally film for students, but given I’ve recently designed a few units that rely on intense online collaboration, with student interactions and media-making essentially building the majority of unit content, this video also seems perfectly timed. I don’t need to explain how this chat with Clim came about – we actually discuss this toward the end – so I’ll let it speak for itself…

I’ve made a lot of important videos for students, but this one stands out as particularly crucial. Clim and I don’t talk about the subject matter of a specific unit, or even focus primarily on education, but many of the points raised seem to me essential for people to reflect on – and not only the video’s intended student audience. If you don’t want to watch us for half an hour, the following video is also available in podcast form.

Whether you watch or just listen, I strongly recommend going the whole journey.

And after you do, reward yourself!!

Further information about Clim Pacheco can be found on the website of Business Transformation Solutions.

 

 

 

Writing an Assignment Example, which isn’t, but kind of is, but isn’t really

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Trump just dropped out of the US presidential race! Are you serious?!

Well, no, I’m not, but it was the best example of an attention-grabber I could think of at the moment.

The importance of attracting and maintaining a reader’s attention when you’re writing online is a fairly standard point to make, but I thought it was worth mentioning here given students can become very accustomed to essay-writing and its expectations of a rigid structure and formal word choice. Blogs are generally much more ‘accessible’ than scholarship – and only in part through the use of more informal (but still clear and articulate) language. On the other hand, constructing scholarly blog posts requires a balance between this accessibility and complexity that is often difficult to master (Alexander 2016, p. 3).

When I first considered writing an ‘example blog post’ for students, I naturally first thought that I’d engage with a topic related to the unit’s content. However, I’m always concerned that something I make will turn into a ‘template’ that gets followed by the majority. Further to this, I can’t really ‘teach’ people how to do this kind of thing anyway…

An emphasis on ‘learning by doing’ by making and sharing media, and then giving/receiving feedback via peer review, can make teacher examples risky. As Jonathan Kirby highlights in his discussion of contemporary pedagogical approaches:

an overarching example can be counterproductive to the learning process and might even stifle initiative and creativity (Kirby 2016, p. 17).

I’ve seen this happen before, hence the approach I’m taking here seeks to highlight some general elements of what can make a good blog that demonstrates both critical thinking and creative application, not replicate what students will be doing.

There are far too many aspects of blogging for me to cover everything in detail, but I’ll mention a few through the useful (but not essential) strategy of dot points:

I’ve covered the use of both scholarly and creative material in my ‘Using Source Material’ podcast, so I don’t want to touch on that here, but the integration of other media content deserves a little more consideration. There are countless ways in which this could be done, and the key advice I want to emphasise here is that the nature and positioning of media content should make sense within the context of the overall post (Thompson 2008, pp. 9-10).

Bringing in extra content is valuable for reasons of aesthetics and interactivity, but also for enabling one to cover more subject matter than is possible within a relatively small word count. Videos in embedded tweets offer a lot of scope to play around creatively and analytically, as do embedded podcasts. I don’t have space to write about the latter much here, so I’ve embedded one below to follow up on this:

 

 

Teamwork.jpg
Teamwork by Campus of Excellence (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Experimenting with the different ways media content can be used together to explore, investigate, and examine is the best – and only – way to really learn what those different ways are. Your audience will help, but you have to (to paraphrase Tom Cruise) help them help you by making and sharing first!

And lastly, always try to bring your blogs ‘full circle’ where possible – particularly if it helps reinforce a key point you made at the beginning, which has been backed up all the way through. In the case of this blog, that didn’t really happen, but given how I started I’m afraid I have to come back to Trump. Sorry.

Make blogging great again!!

Donald Trump.jpg
Donald Trump in Ottumwa, Iowa by Evan Guest (CC BY 2.0)

Oh, I just made myself feel sick…

 

References

Alexander, D 2016, ‘A made up source to show how a point can be paraphrased’, Journal of Still Use Specific Page Numbers When Paraphrasing, vol. 7. No. 2, pp. 1-15.

Kirby, J 2008, ‘Quotations are useful when something is uniquely/significantly worded’, The collection of ‘Perfect Your Referencing!’ and other invented essays, Deakin University Press, Wakanda City, pp. 15-27.

Thompson, A 2015, A Book Revealing that You Can Always Go Beyond the Bare Minimum, Embrace Your Potential Press, Melbourne.

Don’t Trust the Teacher!: Advice for/by Students

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Creepy
Self-portrait by Adam Brown, 22 January 2016. Creepy.

I wrote in an earlier blog called ‘Who’s Learning From Whom?‘ about my dismay over the years that the views and ideas of students are often not given the weight they deserve by their peers. That post shared a video with Catherine Shelley, a recent Deakin University graduate now working as an Event Producer, which signified the next stage of my quest to emphasise the importance of student contributions to unit content. I’ve included students in segments of my teaching videos in some form or another since I began making them in 2013, although this gets increasingly difficult when I teach fewer seminars directly and I can’t build enough of a rapport to get many students confidently standing in front of my camcorder. However, the ‘trust issue’ alluded to in the title of this blog takes on a different form than this…

Sometimes the last people students will listen to are teachers. I’m not actually being cynical or negative in saying this (you might not believe me, but that probably underlines my point even more, hashtag #lol). I’m also not advocating the mass dismissal of things that teachers have to say… obviously. The truth is though that if students did constantly heed teacher advice withough question, then everyone would show up to every seminar, read every reading set, and always start assignments long before the deadline. However, these aren’t the kind of things that I’m concerned about in this post. My key point here is that there is some advice that is best delivered to students by students.

Whether it’s partly because of an unconscious perception by some that ‘well, the teacher gets paid to say that’ (technically, that’s actually true on one level), or it’s because students just find other students more relatable (no matter how many T-Shirts I wear), when they are given a genuine and engaging opportunity to listen to each other, students trust students. Plain and simple. And so my latest podcast and two videos embedded below give a lot of space to student voices, because having students tell their peers what works and what doesn’t is often the best way to communicate the importance of being active online and collaborating with their peers.

As if to emphasise the importance of students giving advice to students even more, within a few hours of uploading the above podcast – and while I was writing this blog – a student had created and shared a follow-up podcast of her own:

The other two resources I made with the generous assistance of students contribute to the Talking Digital Media video playlist I’ve been developing over the past few years. I’ve never felt compelled to justify myself as not elitist, but I imagine the early stages of this playlist, which mostly incorporated guest lectures or interviews with other academics and industry practitioners, probably didn’t give the impression of something that was ‘open’ to student involvement. In early 2016, I filmed conversations with current PhD students on areas they knew more about than me, and not long afterwards it seemed clear that undergraduate students were the best people to speak to regarding the crucial themes of student agency, showing initiative, getting experience, and working together online. I look forward to relying on students more often in future, as it should never be students who rely solely on me…

The below video is also available as a podcast here.

The below video is available as a podcast here.

Both of these videos came from chance moments when something that I was told in conversation made me instantly think other students have to hear this! And what I will see transpire in future weeks is students giving more advice to each other as they tweet, peer review blogs, and no doubt do other things that I never expected. Such is the nature of teaching… if you still trust me enough to believe that.

Thanks to everyone who helped out with the above content.

 

Learning by Doing: Getting Practical with Digital Media

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The types of teaching videos I’ve put together have changed over time. In 2013, I began making what I called ‘meLectures‘, which comprised weekly reflections on unit content via talking head footage, conversations 20130923_173307.jpgwith various people, and the more important/influential/entertaining footage of my maltese-shitzu companion Tiffany. In 2015, I started taking out my guest ‘interviews’ to upload them separately in a Talking Digital Media playlist. These videos have seen me chat with other academics, industry practitioners, postgraduate students, and very shortly, undergraduate students. They are premised on the twin notions that all perspectives are valid and multiple perspectives are always better than one (which is usually what is offered in a traditional lecture setting). A related idea behind these videos is that when teaching such a diverse range of topics underneath the broad umbrella of ‘digital media’, I can never be anything approaching an expert. Besides, any claims of ‘expert’ status by anybody working in the online world are rightly looked upon with skepticism and suspicion.

In early 2016, my meLectures were replaced entirely by three playlists: the ongoing list of Talking Digital Media conversations, short Digital Media Snapshot reflections on unit topics and assessment, and a series of Getting Practical with Digital Media videos. This last playlist sought to offer broad advice for students to keep in mind when setting up profiles on different platforms or to highlight certain conventions to bear in mind when making media. I do not teach students how to do things – not least of all because, given the accessible and user-friendly nature of contemporary online media, I don’t need to. A key benefit of this playlist is that I can re-use these brief videos in future units for students who may not have completed the unit they were initially designed for in order to help get those new students up to speed and surge ahead with their own media-making.

A common thread woven throughout the Getting Practical with Digital Media playlist is that people learn how to use digital media by using it. Learning by making and doing is fundamental and these videos are designed to help propel students into this process. For instance, my ‘Area 1: Foundation Land‘ videos cover the need to think carefully and strategically about one’s identity when constructing online profiles, the value of using Twitter in a teaching and learning context, and the crucial topic of Creative Commons licensed material (which very few students have any awareness of when I first meet them). This first group of videos have been embedded into the prezi linked below:

Area 1 Prezi

The ‘Area 2: Exploration World‘ prezi brings together videos that draw attention to some key elements to consider when starting up a blog, including the hyperlinking and embedding of multimedia content, among other things. The brevity of some of these videos reveals just how straightforward some processes – even when they are crucially important ones – actually can be…

Area 2 Prezi.png

The last ‘Area 3: Advanced Star‘ videos focus on advice for making videos, which is invariably the most nerve-wracking experience for students who have never engaged in such an activity before. Nonetheless, video-making is an increasingly central part of many, many industries, and while it can be a time and effort-intensive exercise, it is also one of the most rewarding things that anyone can ever do in terms of media production.

Area 3 Prezi.png

There is roughtly one hour of footage in total across the thirteen videos embedded here, and asking people in a time and attention-poor society to sit and watch a video even for an average of 5 minutes is a big ask. While I hope that students do set aside the time to view them (the stats so far have been promising at least), the main point is that watching these videos should inspire many more hours of microblogging, blogging, and vlogging by others. My videos might provide a small nudge toward this, but as one student’s comment on my last Getting Practical video noted, getting practical oneself is the crux:

Great advice, Adam! Learning so much from just doing:)

How I poisoned a student and got away with it: The Story of @FauxTheMan

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A lot of my teaching focuses on encouraging students to think about – and practice – how to use social media actively, strategically, and effectively. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different strategies to help enable this. In 2014, I introduced a character students themselves came to call ‘Anti-Adam’, whose cynical appearances on camera discouraged the ‘real me’ from having any hope that students would leave behind their passive ways and participate in online discussions, debates, and creative media-making.

Anti-Adam 2.png
Anti-Adam provides one last rant in the final meLecture of 2014.

The playfulness with my identity(s) was well received, though it’s impossible to say just how much of an impact this strategy had on tempting students to move out of their comfort zones. Anti-Adam essentially took on an infrequent ‘cameo role’ and there wasn’t really any way that his two-dimensional persona could be interacted with. I also needed to carefully balance how much ‘negativity’ I included so as to not disillusion people further and produce the opposite effect than what was intended. When refreshing my learning materials this year, I was even more intent on enticing – provoking – greater and better online participation, so I tried something else…

FauxTheMan
Twitter profile of @FauxTheMan

FauxTheMan was born on 13 March 2016, when I summarily  took over my partner’s unused Twitter account (because I didn’t want to have to get another bloody email address) and created a sixth profile for myself, transforming a then blank persona into an only slightly less blank persona. Faux sported no profile picture (at least for a few months), had included a somewhat vague bio that left everything to the imagination, and followed Hulk Hogan – and only Hulk Hogan bro! His role in the first several weeks was to contribute sporadic tweets to the unit hashtag that left much to be desired from a teacher’s perspective – and no doubt in the eyes of his peers as well. On a few occasions, Faux crossed the line from being uninterested and disengaged to being rude and offensive to me (that is, the teacher me). To get a better sense of what transpired, the following 5 minute clip (3:20-7:58) from the below video offers a summary of Faux’s early days, when the content of the unit focused on the issue of online identity:

Before creating Faux, I had been tossing the idea of a fake student account around in my head for a while, but the actual process was as much spontaneous as it was planned. As with so many other things when being creative with digital media, Faux organically grew in response to the reactions of students. I had assumed that once he had helped communicate the message of what not to do on Twitter, Faux’s ‘presence’ in the unit would dissipate as the trimester moved forward. But this was not to be the case, as Faux took on more functions over time – even if he just helped me promote learning resources in a slightly different way…

Faux ended up providing me with an ideal outlet to provoke more student activity – both by showing what was possible, but also by showing how things could be done better (by doing them badly). Nonetheless, it felt like an almost natural development that Faux would himself improve and actually replicate the desired learning process in doing so. A growing stream of videos from Faux helped me supplement my more ‘official’ teaching videos with on-the-spot productions that exemplified the ease and accessibility afforded by contemporary digital media culture (i.e. my smartphone).

Faux’s confidence grew to the point where he even started demanding to be included in what I called ‘Digital Media Snapshots‘, weekly videos designed to guide students through the various topics and assessments. As engagement with Faux grew, he took on a kind of ‘underdog’ persona that set student against teacher, reinforcing a key message that genuine learning environments don’t require the teacher to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. Student agency is crucial, and while the entire Faux scenario was obviously fictional to all involved, making a clear-cut distinction between that and ‘reality’ would be simplistic. Given that some ‘real’ students took the time to parody Faux with selfies or video mashups, it doesn’t really matter where inspiration comes from – as long as it comes.

The antagonism between Faux-me and Teacher-me was exacerbated toward the end of the unit and eventually came to a head in the final Snapshot video, when my faux-sore throat led to the final symbolic gesture of the ‘students’ replacing – and being – the ‘teachers’…

Of course, I’m not advocating the essential erasure of the teacher’s presence here – that wouldn’t be a wise career move – but this and other teaching experiences have solidified in my mind the increasing need to reconceptualise the role of the teacher in a media-saturated 21st century. Teachers won’t disappear, but they do need to ‘come back’ in a different form (or different forms) to continue to engage students living in a time-poor and attention-poor society. What those forms are will depend on the subject area, student cohort, and broader context, but the main point is that those new forms are different.

As we approach the end of our story, it’s important to point out that Faux did realise the error of his ways and I finally got to poison a student.

But at the same time, Faux’s very last appearance in the unit below might well be a better note to end on. For me this convergence suggests the sentiment that a student needs a teacher might well need to be balanced with more emphasis on the teacher needing the student. My future teaching plans – which will no doubt develop as organically as before with the help of students and probably shouldn’t even be called ‘plans’ – will seek to put that age-old distinction of ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ to the test even more. In the meantime, I’m glad that Faux will be coming along for the ride. He’ll no doubt be around next time. He actually has to re-enrol anyway.

He’s too busy being a pain in the arse to do any assignments!

Epilogue: I hope that ending didn’t make it sound like I had discovered the blurred boundaries of student and teacher on behalf of those enrolled in the unit. Through their own critical thinking and creative practice, they were able to discover that all by themselves…

Trollmania Brother. Trollmania indeed.